Mad Dog Bites Hippo

In the following game, GM Joel Benjamin tries out a flexible hippopotamus set-up against IM Marc Esserman's aggressive "mad dog" formation, "blunting White's Bishop on c4" with e6 (as the title of Colin McNab's chapter on the line in Dangerous Weapons: The Pirc and Modern would have it.) But there is something that does not love a wall, and the Mad Dog Bishop eventually bites through to deal a deadly blow to Benjamin's hippo.

Marc Esserman - Joel Benjamin [B06]

Marshall CC New York International/New York, NY USA (4) 2010

1. e4 d6 2. d4 g6 3. Nf3 Bg7 4. Bc4 e6!?


Blunting the dangerous diagonal of the "mad dog" White Bishop. This is very much what you might expect from Benjamin, who is known for a similar set-up against the Classical variation. Both lines with an early Black ...e6 are discussed in "Dangerous Weapons: The Pirc and Modern" (Everyman 2009).


5. Bb3

A sensible waiting move, to avoid being hit with a forceful ...d5 advance later. Esserman eventually finds a way to open the Bishop's diagonal.


5... Nd7?!

This seems, in retrospect, to be a minor inaccuracy that allows Esserman to set up an annoying Queen and Bishop battery that discourages castling by Black. Instead, 5... Ne7 is given by Colin McNab in Dangerous Weapons: The Pirc and Modern, when White's standard plan is to bring his Knight from b1 to g3 and try to build toward an eventual kingside attack: 6. O-O

(6. Nbd2 b6 7. Nf1 Nd7 8. Ng3 Bb7 9. O-O O-O= Bartel - Milov, Warsaw; but perhaps 6. Bg5!? h6 7. Be3 d5! (7... O-O 8. Qd2 Kh7 9. h4) 8. Nc3 O-O 9. Qd2)


6... h6!?

(6... Nd7 7. Re1 b6 8. Nbd2 Bb7 9. Nf1 O-O 10. Ng3 c5 11. c3 cxd4 12. cxd4 Rc8 13. Bf4 e5 14. Be3 exd4 15. Bxd4 Ne5 16. Nxe5 dxe5 17. Bc3 Qxd1 18. Raxd1 1/2-1/2 Speelman,J (2525)-Greet, A (2431)/England 4NCL)


7. c3 b6 8. Nbd2 Nd7 9. Re1 Bb7 10. Nf1 O-O 11. Ng3 c5 12. h4

(12. Bf4 e5 (12... d5!?) 13. Be3 Qc7 14. Qd2 Kh7 15. Rad1 Rad8 16. dxe5 Nxe5 17. Nxe5 dxe5 18. Qe2 f5 19. exf5 gxf5 20. Rxd8 Rxd8 21. Bc2 Qc6 22. f3 Bc8 23. Bc1 (23. Nh5!) 23... Qg6 24. Rd1 Rd6 25. Rxd6 Qxd6 26. Nf1 Kg8 27. Ne3 Be6 28. Bd3 Kf7 29. Bc4 h5 30. Bxe6+ Qxe6 31. f4?! exf4! 32. Qxh5+ Kf8 33. Nf1 Qxa2 0-1 Chadaev,N (2568)-Mamedjarov,S (2724)/Moscow Aeroflot-open 2009 (73))


12... cxd4 13. cxd4 Nf6 14. Nh2!? Nc6 15. Be3 h5 16. Bg5 Ne7 17. Qd2 Nh7 18. Bh6 Rc8 19. Rad1 b5 20. Bxg7 Kxg7 21. Nf3 a5 22. Ng5 Kh8 23. Nf3 (23. Nxf7+!? Rxf7 24. Bxe6) 23... Qb6 24. Bc2 Kg7 25. Bb1 b4 26. Ng5 Nf6 27. Qf4 e5 28. dxe5 dxe5 29. Qxe5 Nc6 30. Qf4 Ng4 31. Rd6 Qc7 32. Red1 Nce5 33. Nf3 Qe7 34. Nxe5 Nxe5 35. Nf1 Rc7 36. Ne3 Rfc8 37. R6d4 Kg8 38. f3 Rc1 39. Kh2 R1c5 40. Qg3 Ba6 41. f4 Nc4 42. Nd5 Qa7 43. Nf6+ Kg7 44. e5 1-0 Bruzon Batista,L (2619)-Almeida Quintana,O (2524)/Ciego de Avila CUB



6. Bg5! Ne7 7. Qd2 h6 8. Be3


It's debatable who has gained the most from the Bishop's adventure to g5, since ...h6 is a standard part of the hippo tabiya. But I think this flexible set-up is good for White, since it is now very difficult for Black to castle without dropping the h-pawn. Esserman loves to keep his opponent's King in the center of the board, especially when he plays the Smith-Morra.

8. Bf4!? b6 9. Nc3 a6 10. a4 Bb7 11. h3 Nf6 12. Qe2 (12. d5!) 12... d5! 13. exd5 exd5!? 14. a5 O-O 15. axb6 cxb6 1-0 Langeweg,K (2425)-Robatsch,K (2460)/Amsterdam 1972 (46).


8... b6

Benjamin continues building his flexible hippo formation, but perhaps action in the center is called for: 8... Nf6!? 9. Nc3 d5 10. exd5 Nfxd5 or 8... d5!? look like reasonable alternatives.


9. Nc3 Bb7 10. O-O!

Castling the other way does not look as good, since the Bishop at b3 gives Black's pawns something to bite at: 10. O-O-O a5 threatening ... b5!? seems to give Black good counterplay.


10... Nf6 11. d5! exd5

Black hopes to label the d5 pawn a target, but opening the e-file before the King has castled always feels dangerous.

11... e5 12. Ba4+ Kf8 is cramped for Black but certainly safer.


12. exd5 a6 13. Rfe1 Kf8!?

Black decides to "castle by hand" since O-O drops the h-pawn. Alternately, 13... Qd7 14. a4 O-O-O was a different method of evacuating the King, but White can eventually launch an attack on the queenside, e.g.: 15. a5 b5 16. Bd4 Rhe8 17. Ne4!? Nxe4 18. Rxe4 Bxd4 19. Rxd4 Nf5 20. Rb4! followed by c4.


14. Re2 Kg8 15. Rae1 b5 16. Bf4 Nf5 17. a3 Qd7 18. h3 h5 19. Ne4!? Nh7

19... Nxe4 20. Rxe4 Bxb2?! 21. c3! Bxa3 22. Bg5 gives White tremendous attacking opportunities using the weakened dark squares.


20. c3 Re8 21. Nfg5!

Already possible is 21. Nc5!? Rxe2 (21... dxc5 22. Rxe8+) 22. Nxd7 Rxd2 23. Re8+ Nf8 (23... Bf8 24. Bxd2 Kg7 25. Rb8) 24. Bxd2 a5 25. Rb8 Ba6 26. Bg5


21... f6

21... Nxg5 22. Bxg5 and Nf6+ cannot be prevented, giving White deadly domination over the dark squares.


Now Esserman is finally able to liberate his "mad dog" Bishop leading to a swift finish.


22. Nc5! Rxe2 23. Qxe2 dxc5

23... Qc8 24. Qe8+ Qxe8 25. Rxe8+ Nf8 26. Nge6! dxc5 27. Nxc5


24. d6+ c4 25. Bxc4+ bxc4 26. Qxc4+ Kf8 27. Re7

The Black Queen is lost, and the computer gives a forced mate in 11 moves. A tremendous attacking game from the ever-creative Mark Esserman. Benjamin's early e6 tried to fence out the Bishop at c4, but it eventually broke through with a vengeance.



[Michael Goeller]

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Copyright © 2010 by Michael Goeller